The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith: Dog in the ditch


One day, we might finally get a dog that we choose. That hasn't been the case for a long time. We had two beagles that became ours. Their mother was a gift to my daughter for her eighth birthday. She had puppies. The kids wanted to keep all six, but we settled on keeping two. One of them lived for 13 years, well past the time of my daughter's college graduation.

We also inherited Moo, my son's Christmas present. He was a purebred Great Swiss Mountain dog. When my son went to school in New York City, he stayed with us and became ours. He was easily the most expensive dog we ever owned, with all sorts of medical problems.

When Gina's dad passed away, we inherited his dog, Sadie. Sadie was fearless and a gem. But in a terrible year of COVID and my brother passing away, we lost both Moo and Sadie. We were dogless for the first time in our married life.

Then my son went to study in Egypt. We asked what we could do to help. He said, "Could you keep our dog while I am away? One less thing for us to worry about." We said, "Of course," and Rags came to live with us.

I am not one to brag, but when Rags came to live with us, he started his best life ever. He went on long walks, helped herd cows and found the joy of chasing squirrels in the neighborhood.

We were walking Rags the other day and took him off the leash behind a church near our house. He quickly smelled squirrel activity and went bounding off into the woods. When I say "bounding," I mean it literally. He is the only dog I have ever known who literally springs forward on all four legs, like Peppy Le Pew in the old cartoons.

He was chasing a squirrel near a deep ditch when he went missing. We called for him, but he didn't return. That was unusual. We hustled over to the ditch, and sure enough, there was Rags - happy, tongue out, celebrating chasing squirrels out of the ditch. He did look puzzled, however, as he began to realize he did not know how to get out of the ditch.

Gina said, "I've got to find a way to get down there." I told her she was not going into the ditch; I was. I had my reasons. First, the ditch was 10 feet deep and I am 6'1" tall. I have a height advantage. Second, I have male pride. I did not say this out loud, but I thought, "No wife of my mine is going in the ditch to get the dog, leaving me up here." Gina did say something about me having a bad knee, but I reminded her it had been repaired by the best doctor in town.

Getting into a ditch is easy. Just swing your legs over the ditch, inch forward and slide. I found a little ledge about four feet from the bottom. Rags, sensing deliverance was near, jumped on the ledge. I grabbed him by his harness and vaulted him up to Gina. Mission accomplished. Almost.

Having rescued the dog, I needed to rescue myself. The banks of the ditch were almost vertical, and there was no place to get a handhold. I slid down to the bottom of the ditch (which thankfully was dry) and looked for a better place. And I looked. Finally, I spotted another small ledge. I got a toe hold and worked my way up to it, still about six feet from the top.

Gina, who has a good heart, offered me her hand and said, "Let me try to pull you up." I knew that was a bad idea. Without getting into specifics, let me just say, I outweigh her by a considerable amount. It would be like a toy Jeep trying to pull a semi.

Gina then said, "Will we have to call the fire department?" I said, "Absolutely not!" I could see the headlines: "Local pastor pulled out of ditch by Sumter Fire Dept." Imagine what social media would do with that headline. I was considering asking her to go back home and get my truck and some rope, but I held off on that request.

I spotted a small root and grabbed it. It held. Using the root, I pulled myself up and then caught hold of a small tree, then heaved myself back up on the bank. There was nothing to do but laugh, wipe the dirt off and start the journey home.

Walking home, I thought about all the times I have gotten myself in the ditch. I was just having fun, not thinking of the consequences. The next thing I knew, I was stuck in a place with no way out. The Good News is my Savior Jesus got in the ditch with me and got me out. He had to get dirty with my sin, my poor judgment, my mistakes, to do it. But my dirt never scared Jesus off. Neither will yours. He is ready to get you out of the ditch.

The Rev. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.